Tales of the Absurd in this Mad, Mad World

Democracy and rule of law, or cancel culture: We must choose

The current massive pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo illustrates the dire situation in which our culture and our country find themselves.

We have a Constitution and state constitutions and laws that establish how public officials should be selected, and removed. Under the U.S. and state constitutions, they are to be selected by free elections, for a fixed term of years.  Those same constitutions and laws provide for how they may be removed, by impeachment or, in some states like California, by recall referendum.

Ours is not a parliamentary system, as in the United Kingdom, where a prime minister may be removed simply by losing a vote of confidence in, e.g., the House of Commons.  Many believe our system is superior because it guarantees greater stability in government.

There is another way an elected leader may be removed from office, and that is if he or she is convicted of a crime and is sentenced to prison.

The current campaign to force Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign  may lead to his impeachment, but is not likely to lead to his conviction and imprisonment for a crime.

Instead, he is the latest object of a phenomenon in the United States, and some other places, which seeks to bypass legal and constitutional processes to achieve the immdiate objective of a frenzied mob, often made possible or strengthened through the internet and social media. Non-public and dark forces may be behind some of these campaigns.

In the United States, three different “mobs” have contributed to what is often termed “cancel culture”,  the abuse of power to achieve goals without due process and without following legally-established procedures for determining the truth of allegations, and dtermining appropriate and proportionate sanctions for crimes or infractions that may be found to have occurred.

Due process and the rule of law allow anyone accused of a crime the right to confront witnesses and put on his or her witnesses to help ascertain the truth of an allegation, the right of the accused to speak in his or her defense before a lawfully-constituted body, and to enjoy several other rights.

In criminal matters, perhaps the most important defendant right is the presumption of innocence, until such time as the defendant may be convicted of an alleged crime.

A second is the constitutional protection against prosecution under any <em>ex post facto</em> laws, that is, one may not be prosecuted for actions or relationship that were not illegal before passage of a subsequent law.

A third protection is provided for, in both civil snd criminal matters, through statutes of limitations.  In criminal matters, these statutes seek to protect defendants against claims or allegations that are too old for reliable witness testimony to be given.  Human memories are notoriously unreliable.  These statutes require allegations and charges to be brought before the court while memories of witnesses, both for and against the defendent, are still fresh and undistorted by the passage of time.

These defendant’s rights are all based on the fundamental premise that illegal conduct must be specifically defined, as well as the potential penalties to which a defendant may be condemned if found guilty.

Do not heed pronouncements such as one heard on TV this morning:  “I believe in due process, but Gov. Cuomo should resign, and should have already resigned some time ago.”

The rising crescendo of demands that Gov. Cuomo resign is directly related to the development of so-called “cancel culture” in the United States.

This “cancel culture” is a mob culture, which appears to be the product of a combination of mob cultures that have developed, usually in comjunction with mobilization efforts facilitated by social media and the internet.

There are three or four components of this mob-action cancel culture.

The first has been the “Me-Too Movement”, whereby men have been denounced and forced to resign on the basis of an accumulation of allegations of “sexual misconduct’.  In the process, the critical distinction between predatory sexual conduct–the coercion of a woman by a man to engage in sexual intercourse or other <strong>sexual conduct</strong> and sexually inappropriate conduct (measured by contemporary standards), such as touching or verbal conduct, has frequently been lost.

In particular, elements of what has become known as a sexually hostile workplace (civilly prohibited under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act) have become conflated with actions such as sexual coercion by a superior of a woman under a man’s authority.

There has also been a conflation of the penalties the mob seeks to impose.

The case of Senator Al Franken (D-Minnsota) is quite instructive on this point. Essentially, he was subjected to extreme pressures to resign by the “Me-Too” Movement, led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (Dem-NY), because he engaged in part of a skit both he and the alleged victim had performed before USO audiences on previous occasions. Before becoming a Senator, Franken was a comedian. He obviously was clowning around. Perhaps inappropriately, as the alleged victim was asleep.

Ceding to these pressures, and probably those on his family in particular, Sen. Al Franken resigned. As a result, the Democrats lost one of their best U.S. Senators, who had been caustic in his criticism of Donald Trump.

A second component of the mob culture has been the development of the anti-racist mob, which has demanded that statues be removed, university schools and buildings renamed, and anything they perceive as racist be immediately changed. The mib aspect is related to the demand for immediate action, outside of legal processes.

A third component of the “cancel culture” mob that has developed has been the development of the free speech censorship mob. This mob, whose origins lie in universities and colleges, gets excised over speech or books that they consider politically incorrect. Recent examples include the decision by the publishers of the Dr. Seuss books of publication of six books because they allegedly contained racist stereotypes, such as a drawing of a Chinese man with a horizontal brush stroke for the eyes. Amazon has just announced that it will not sell books that deal with reprogramming LGTBQ persons.

What it all amounts to is censorship.

Obviously, this is not the occasion to examine in greater detail the antiracist mob and the censorship mob.

Suffice it to say, we have a system of constitutions and laws. Officials are elected for fixed terms. They should not be hounded from office because of a crescendo of allegations which, unexamined in the proper legal setting and proceeding, in essence amounts to mob action.

Legal processes should be observed.

The decisions of voters should be respected.

Officials should not be hounded from office by an avalanche of allegations and mob demands for resignation.

Charges should be fully vetted by appropriate authorities.

If misconduct is found to have occrred, sanctions proportionate to the offense should be considered, In the case of Gov. Cuomo, impeachment, censure, and defeat at the ballot box would be appropriate remedies if he is guilty as charged.

The Moderator of the Absurd

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